You’ve put a lot of time, money, and energy into your website. You’ve spent hours discussing (probably arguing!) over opinions about details like design, layout, and functionality. You’ve agonized over major decisions that you know will have an important impact on the business. You hope you’ve made the right ones. You hope there aren’t details you’re missing that will hinder its performance and turn off your target market. You hope it persuades your visitors that you’re worth doing business with and that you really are better than your competition.
Here I present to you some effective tactics that websites can do to persuade visitors, which you can use to analyze if yours is up to par. Also, they will spark ideas on how you can improve.
Understand how the brain works
Before we get into those specific tactics, it’s important to understand how the human brain works. With the recent advancements in brain science, many of the theories of persuasion that have been held are starting to be combined with hard data from neuroimaging. The findings have been teaching us how the brain functions in various situations and in the midst of various stimuli. One thing that separates us as humans from other animals is our extremely high level of reasoning and logical thought. But what’s interesting is we are still mostly controlled by our emotions and unconscious thoughts, which are controlled by a separate part of the brain than reasoning.
When it comes to decision-making, we operate mostly with that part of the brain first. We operate on emotional reaction. Yes, we still reason. But, the part of the brain that involves reasoning is typically only signaled by the emotional part of the brain after emotions have been triggered. Therefore, reasoning typically follows the path of working to justify emotional, unconscious decisions we’ve already made. Most of the time, we’re unaware of our emotions and don’t know how or why the unconscious part of the brain is so controlling.
Engage the whole brain
It’s been said that you shouldn’t do things half-ass. As my boss always says, “You should use the whole ass.” When it comes to websites, they shouldn’t be half-brained. They should engage the whole brain, not just the conscious part. Therefore, we’ve got to have some clever ways to engage the subconscious part of the brain that go beyond simply giving logical presentations about our companies and their products and services.
Here’s a quick overview of 10 time-tested ways you can engage your website users’ subconscious brains to make them want your offers more. You may not be able to incorporate all of them, but there are certainly multiple options here that will work for you regardless of the industry you’re in or what you’re selling. I encourage you to pick some and try them out.
Here we go…
1. Make them want to fit in
Subconsciously, we all want to fit in. It’s wired into us as part of our makeup. When making decisions, we want validation that what we are doing is smart, accepted, and safe. Especially when we’re having trouble making a decision, we look to others for confidence in deciding a certain way. We’ll behave differently in a group than we would ever imagine behaving in isolation.
For example, there’s a phenomenon called the “bystander effect” that is displayed clearly in public situations where someone needs help. If you are alone and someone is in need, you are much more likely to help the person than if you are in a group where no one is helping. In fact, in a series of studies from a book called The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help?, the authors had someone act as though they were having an epileptic seizure on a city street. They varied the number of onlookers in the study. If a single bystander came upon the person, the individual helped 85% of the time. If five people were present? 31% of the time help was given.
On a website, you can influence users by showing them what others think, bought, are doing, or did in the past. This is where ratings, reviews, testimonials, and the like come into play. It’s why Amazon shows “customers who bought this also bought…” and why YouTube has what people are watching right now on their site.
These types of things provide social validation to users to go ahead and perform the same actions, making them more likely to do so.
2. Make them feel indebted to you
Subconsciously, we all want to do our part. If someone gives something to us with no strings attached, we feel indebted to them. We feel an obligation to give back, and we don’t want to hold on to that feeling for too long. This is a psychological principle called reciprocity. But, the key here is the “no strings attached” part. If you give a user free shipping if they spend $100, you aren’t triggering a feeling of indebtedness. Giving them free shipping is perceived as reciprocation by the company for spending more. Or if you’ll only give your whitepaper away if they give over key contact information. Again, the feeling of indebtedness is not triggered. You have to give the first gift, whether it be helpful information, a free sample, good recommendations, etc.
The gift doesn’t have to be big at all. Even the smallest gift will trigger reciprocation. Plus, people tend to never reciprocate with something of lesser value than what was given to them. It doesn’t get rid of the feeling of indebtedness to the person or organization.
Another way you can trigger reciprocation is through the use of what is called concession. This works by asking for something greater than what most people will agree to, but is still reasonable. If the offer isn’t reasonable, it won’t work. Once the offer is rejected, the customer feels indebted to you because you accepted their no for an answer. When you come back with a much better offer (which is the one you wanted anyway!), they are much more likely to concede to that offer to reciprocate the “kindness” you showed by accepting the rejection of your first offer. Your local car salesman provides for his family with this one :).
This is a key way in which marketing channels that “don’t convert” (i.e. social media) are more valuable than you think they are. Social media is all about giving value to your audience in information and conversation. When they have a good experience with no strings attached (stop solely trying to sell through social media!!!), they feel indebted to your business. Then when the time is right, they’ll do a search, spot your listing in search results, and pick you out of obligation for the value you’ve already delivered to their life.
3. Make your offer seem more valuable
Subconsciously, we want things that not everybody (or no one) can have. If products or information is scarce, we want them more than if they were readily available for everyone to have. There are 4 main ways in which this principle can be triggered.
- Show a limited number available. When there are “only 3 left in stock,” a sense of urgency is created in the customer that makes them more likely to purchase because they feel they are about to miss out.
- Show a limited time to purchase. The same happens when time is running out for you to get your hands on what it is you want. You maybe see the best example of #1 and #2 on home shopping networks like QVC. At all times, there are counters for both number available and time to purchase on the bottom of the screen. This better moves the audience to action than just talking about features and benefits of the product itself.
- Show a higher price tag. Although there’s a science to pricing products or information that can get pretty complicated, a general rule for the subconscious mind of the shopper is that higher prices communicate better quality. We want things that we think are better than comparable things. It means those things are scarce and most people probably aren’t getting their hands on it.
- Ban something altogether. Of course, if something is banned, it’s just about as scarce as it can get. We want this the most.
4. Make choosing easy
Subconsciously, we don’t want to labor over making choices. Ironically, we think we want a lot of choices. But really we don’t. Have you ever fallen victim to the ridiculously long and large restaurant menu that simply makes you want to throw it down and just ask the server what’s good or popular? This is exactly what many websites do to users. They offer so many choices that it frustrates users, and it’s much easier to click off a website than to walk out of a restaurant. It might seem counter-intuitive, but in general, offering too many choices leads to fewer purchases. Here’s a few other ways you can make choosing easier on your users. . .
- Communicate immediacy. The subconscious is more easily swayed to make a purchase if it knows it can obtain the product or service right away. This is a little more difficult on websites since the customer doesn’t have the product sitting in front of them. So communicate the quickness with which a user will get the product if you can.
- Up-sell your customers. It’s easier to purchase a product accessory with another product than by itself. A $50 accessory is “cheaper” to the subconscious mind when purchased with a $300 product than when purchased by itself.
- Strategically order your products. People tend to subconsciously choose the first choice in a list and then consciously justify their choice afterward. Therefore, think about how you’re ordering the products on your website. Put the best choices or most popular first, and users will have an easier time choosing.
5. Make it all about them
Subconsciously, we’re first and foremost out to take care of ourselves. Our brain is always processing information about how we can serve and protect ourselves. The problem many websites have is they focus on the company or products or services instead of the user. Users don’t care about your company or products or services. They care about themselves. More fundamentally, they subconsciously care first and foremost about three major things that serve themselves – survival, food, and sex. Websites that hit upon these three instincts are more likely to grab and hold attention.
If you really think about it, you encounter them all the time. If you can figure out ways to signal the brain that there’s danger, show food prominently, or make subtle sexual associations, it puts users’ brains on high alert. When this happens, there’s more rational and emotional focus on the information, committing it more deeply into memory.
Whatever angle you take, always make sure to use the word “you” in your efforts. Making sure you do so will provide accountability for making sure you’re focusing on users, the only thing they care about.
6. Make a small commitment available
Subconsciously, we want to be consistent. If we say we believe something or identify with something, we strive to act in ways that are consistent with how we see ourselves. These thoughts and feelings are the drivers of decision-making. If we take steps to defend a belief or promote a brand, we’re much more likely continue with actions that back up our previous behaviors than to make switches.
Situations that have two extreme groups make great examples of this. The Mac vs PC rivalry is a great example. If we were to be unbiased and honest, both Macs and PCs have their strengths and weaknesses. But because people typically use one or the other, they start to identify with them. Because they use them, they subconsciously believe that one is better than the other. Because of this, they will defend their choice until the end, to the point of demeaning those of the opposite preference.
The same happens with Republicans and Democrats. I grew up in a highly Republican household. Since I naturally identified with my family, I also identified with their political affiliations. As I grew older, I found myself being sucked into the Republican mindset. I argued Republican. I voted Republican. But as I grew older I started to identify with beliefs that were conflicting when held in the light against the philosophies of Republicans. This changed my behavior because I now wanted to be consistent with my new beliefs that wouldn’t allow me to call myself a Republican (nor Democrat).
How can this help you make a more effective brand online? You can stop asking for big commitments in environments that are inappropriate (like social media!). You can make smaller commitments available that will help people first identify with your brand (like subscribing to your blog). Then when decision-making time comes around, they will want to be consistent and will be more likely to do business with you.
You can even work the subconscious of your customers by getting them to write reviews, do surveys, etc. When people do things for you, they feel an attachment that ignites their desire to be consistent as well.
7. Make an attractive, comfortable environment
Subconsciously, we want to be associated with those like us and those who are attractive to us. The environment in which you place your products or services on your website feeds user perception about the quality and desirability of the offer. This in turn affects the amount of attention a user is willing to give and the amount of persuasion the website delivers to ultimately become a customer.
If we feel a similarity to those using the product/service and we perceive that they’ve benefited from it, we are subconsciously persuaded that the same could happen to us. If we’re attracted to those offering or using a product/service, we give more attention to them. We also let our guard down, which leaves us more open to being persuaded by them. Ultimately, an attractive, comfortable environment leads to higher conversion rates.
You can put these principles into practice on your website by using pictures and stories of attractive people and/or those that match your target audience or who they want to be. Creating this kind of association develops a rapport with your audience, making them more comfortable with your brand and more likely to become a customer.
8. Make users afraid . . . very afraid
Subconsciously, we’re afraid to lose what we already have. We naturally want to protect ourselves from losing it. Our emotions are triggered when the possibility of losing something important to us is presented or imagined in our minds. These emotions communicate with our brain to be on high alert and causes us to remember experiences much better. Remember what you were doing three Mondays ago at 3 p.m. in the afternoon? Maybe, but probably not. Remember what you were doing on 9/11, your wedding day, or during the birth of your first child? I hope so.
Though you may not be able to trigger emotions as strong as those on your website, you can present scenarios to your users that communicate what they might lose if they decide not to take action. Imagining these scenarios can persuade users to make sure they avoid them by taking the action you desire.
But this can also work in the opposite direction. One of the big examples online has to do with user privacy and security. If users imagine scenarios in their minds of losing either of these, they are more likely to take action to avoid it by not transacting online. This is an issue many sites just gloss over in their designs. Knowing what you know now, this should change things a bit. You communicate what users should avoid losing through how you present products and the stories you tell about them. These principles should inform both.
For example, instead of presenting a user with a product and then asking if they want to add on extras, present the product with all the extras and ask users to subtract them if they don’t want them. It’s much harder to subtract from a product you already have in your cart than to add to a base product. Also, pay attention to your wording. Instead of saying “This product doesn’t work 10% of the time,” say “This product has a 90% success rate.”
Although users aren’t cognitively aware of their emotional processing from fear of loss, it plays a powerful role in the actions they decide to take.
9. Make them pay more attention
Subconsciously, our attention is captured more by stories and pictures than words and audio. This is because our brains are built to best process information in these formats. Half of the brain’s processing power is visual, and we remember about 90% of what we see (as opposed to 10% of what we read or hear). This is why most memory programs are picture-based.
Stories give us digestible chunks of information that contain feelings. We are able to identify emotionally with characters in stories, which increases understanding and memory. Information without feeling is quickly forgotten. When we hear stories, pictures are created in our minds. Our brains react like we’re actually experiencing the story. Ever cry when watching a movie? When watching a football game, ever lean in a direction on your couch to try and get the player on your team to avoid a tackle? That’s what’s going on. You’re feeling the story.
So if you want your site to be more effective at getting attention, holding attention and persuading people to take action, use stories and pictures (that incorporate other principles in this post) to communicate information.
10. Make it social
Subconsciously, we are social beings. Sure, your family and friends may frustrate you sometimes (or all the time!). But at our core, we desire to be a part of meaningful groups. This is why there’s always, at any given point in time, hugely successful companies who’ve figured out a way to use new and improved technology to bring people together.
Think about companies that have taken technology and made it social. Starbucks makes coffee social. Who in their right minds would pay $4 for a cup of coffee? Apparently, a lot of people if they can sit and socialize with their friends for a couple hours. Facebook makes the Internet social. I can share things with everyone I know at once? Awesome. Think about cell phones. There’s some companies doing quite well because they took the telephone (already a social tool) and made it more social. I can carry it around with me wherever I go? I can share my pictures remotely with groups of people at one time with the click of a button? You get the point.
All of the previous nine psychological principles can and should be used in social contexts. This is why social media is becoming increasingly important for businesses. It works . . . when you do it right. Figure out a way to make your website and brand more social, and the persuasion techniques you’ve learned here will be most effective with your audience.
We’ve taken a peek at some of the major ways your marketing can be more effective by understanding how the human brain works. Since emotions persuade our rational minds, speak to the emotions and support with facts. If you engage the whole brain efficiently, your site and brand will be more effective, and you’ll get better ROI for your marketing dollars.